Updated: 29/06/2008; 01:35:27.
The Roblog!
A forum for distributing news, insights and musings about our life in Greece, an exile's view of South Africa, other topics of interest, and for exploring this new medium and my own creativity. Maybe make some new friends and/or enemies? Let's see.

29 June 2008

Wow, this blog is almost 12 months behind, and I am being asked to renew my subscription.

i must start blogging again!

1:35:25 AM    comment []

13 July 2007

How I learned to love Greece again

A disastrous Greek island holiday led a broken-hearted Louis de Bernieres to write his Cephalonian bestseller. For the first time, he exclusively reveals how the country 'wounds' him but still holds him in its thrall.

(From The Oberver Books Section of March 20, 2005)

I meant to blog this at the time, but didn't get around to it then or later. I stumbled across this article again last night, and was moved all over again by Louis de Berniere's love-hate relationship with Greece, familiar I think to all of us Philhellenes who have spent any amount of time here, and his wonderful insights into Greek life and culture, and the impact of history on Greek (and Turkish) mythology and thought.

De Bernieres on Greek music (which I love, as he does):

I was to discover that for years Greece had enjoyed the best quality popular music in the world because all the best composers were setting to music the lyrics of the best poets. It was something that cannot be imagined in Britain, where our composers are all up their own backsides trying to impress other composers, and the poets won't or can't write lyrics. Through the music I got to the poetry - Seferis, Sikelianos, Cavafy, Elytis, Ritsos, Gatsos - and their writing has become so much a part of my intellectual and literary framework that I cannot now imagine living without it.

De Berniere's opinion on the dire effect of the Greek Orthodox Church (so relevant in view of the recent school text book row):

For a golden age, modern Greeks look back not to Periclean Athens but to Christian Byzantium. The Greek Orthodox church still has an absolute monopoly on historical and metaphysical truth and the people have a sentimental attachment to it. It's mostly myth but the Greeks remain profoundly grateful to the church for saving their traditions from the savage Turk.

De Berniere's absolutely fabulous put-down comment to the Greek Communist Party (in the context of his troubles with the Greek left wing regarding what they felt was inaccurate reading of the history of the Civil War - quite unwarranted, in my opinion, and as he says, cooked up by The Guardian):

Greek communists have a yobbish habit of painting slogans and acronyms in huge ugly red letters in all prominent places, including beauty spots, and that's how I know they don't really love their country.

Lots of interesting insights into similarities and differences between Greeks and Turks (the most recent book of his that I have read, "Birds Without Wings", beautifully and accurately charts the tragic events and outcomes of the Asia Minor Catastrophe), and leads to this hopeful thought:

It must have occurred to most Greeks that when Turkey finally comes into the EU they will once again have the right to take up residence in Turkey. I remember weeping when I saw on television the destruction of the Berlin Wall. I think it will happen to me again when I see footage of Greek families moving back to Izmir, and Turks buying holiday homes in Crete. I will be wounded by joy, I suppose.

Do read the entire piece!

12:11:20 PM    comment []

25 December 2006

The Wallace Christmas Newsletter for 2006 is online, accompanied by 2006 In Pictures.

11:08:23 PM    comment []

11 December 2006

Slavery: Sorry seems to be hardest word

(From The Scotsman, Monday Nov 27)

I was struck by reading this article from The Scotsman two weeks ago, and even more so by some of the comments appended to the article.

"TONY Blair's attempts to condemn Britain's role in the slave trade without making a full apology have been attacked as "spin".

In a newspaper article today, the Prime Minister issued an "expression of regret" for Britain's involvement in the forcible transportation of millions of Africans through British ports, including Glasgow and Liverpool.

However, he stopped short of taking responsibility for the horrors inflicted on past generations; such a move could have opened up the government to claims for reparations and been contentious with "middle-England" voters.

Now anti-slavery campaigners are urging black and white working class Britons to "reclaim" government-organised commemorations on the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery on 25 March next year. They claim ministers are emphasising the "white middle class" contributions to the abolition of slavery while largely ignoring the role that Africans' own uprising played."

This CNN piece provides more background and facts about the horrifying trade in humans. There is no doubt that slavery and the trade in slaves was evil and inexcusable, but it is in my opinion preposterous to expect any modern government to pay reparations, and it is totally oppportunistic of so-called "human-rights" groups to attempt to wring money out of governments and companies 200 years after the fact, particularly a government whose predecessor abolished the slave trade. Was this not sufficient apology at the time?

"I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guiltyŚwe ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business." William Wilberforce, 1789 Abolition Speech in the House of Commons. (Copied from one of the comments to the article).

Some commenters pointed out that Arab and African traders were involoved in the slave trade long before European nations entered the business, yet they have not been asked to apologise, and that many forms of slavery exist to this day, some flourishing in Africa. The interesting thing to me was how the comment stream quickly spiralled into a discussion on modern-day racism and related topics. There were some notably frank, straightforward and non-politically-correct comments from a Cape Town correspondent calling herself "Media 1". I hasten to point out that while I found these comments interesting, they do not represent my own thinking in any way. My observation is that in South Africa today, not many people are prepared to express such thoughts openly - the risk of being branded racist is ever present.

Media 1, Cape Town / 11:18am 27 Nov 2006

Slavery was terrible, slavery IS terrible! Many nations in Africa still practice it just as they did many hundreds of years prior to the white mans arrival.

But for the white man to apologise for it would be absurd.

I truly believe that only apology should come from Africa herself. I think an apology for failing to keep up with the rest of the world would go a long way to curing her current problems.

Let African leaders apologise for their disruptive, disrespectful and barbaric behaviour over the last 60 years. Let them take responsibilty so that the rest of the world can move on and worry about our own problems as opposed to the CONSTANT plight of Africa and her people.

Let them stop their slavery and their mass genocidal missions of ethnic cleansing..African's must allow Africa to flourish!

The white man must apologise for nothing!

Another comment on the issue from The Daily Telegraph

5:20:49 PM    comment []

Four big, fat myths

By Patrick Basham and John Luik, Sunday Telegraph

Last Updated: 1:29am GMT 27/11/2006

Here is an article, seemingly well-researched and attributed, which seems so counter to the prevailing wisdom and the bombardment from all directions concerning obesity, diet and nutrition, that it is almost breathtaking.

The core argument:

the obesity epidemic is a myth manufactured by public health officials in concert with assorted academics and special-interest lobbyists. These crusaders preach a sermon consisting of four obesity myths: that we and our children are fat; that being fat is a certain recipe for early death; that our fatness stems from the manufacturing and marketing practices of the food industry (hence Ofcom's recently announced ban on junk food advertising to children); and that we will lengthen our lives if only we eat less and lose weight. The trouble is, there is no scientific evidence to support these myths."

The article goes on to debunk these alleged myths one by one, by referencing scientific studies.

Two conclusions noted and shared by your overweight correspondent are:
  1. Being overweight may not be fatal
  2. Exercise is a more important factor than diet
Read it yourself, make your judgement, and let me know what you think.

3:20:09 PM    comment []

02 November 2006

The End of "Die Groot Krokodil"

PW Botha has died. The man who refused to recognise that apartheid was dead, and who epitomised the worst militaristic excesses of Afrikaner Nationalism, has been almost invisible and irrelevant in recent years, as his country has moved confidently and mostly successfully away from his vision of South Africa.

There have been many boring, standard obituaries, and predictably superficial items on places like CNN. The best and most balanced that I have read thus far is this one from Gerald Shaw, former political writer and Deputy Editor of the Cape Times, in which he points out that under PW's watch, the first steps were taken to dismantle apartheid. Unfortunately he suffered a major failure of nerve in 1985 with the disastrous Rubicon speech, in which he backed away from major reformist initiatives at the last moment, and instead flailed away at his old targets, with disastrous consequences for the country. His sabotaging of the highly-promising Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group initiative in 1986, who were on the verge of reconciling the government with the ANC was another example of his cowardliness in not going all the way. It fell to FW De Klerk, five years later, to complete the historic process, with courage and persuasion of the white electorate.

The M&G today has a very similar piece by Dries van Heerden, another former political reporter. Worth quoting:

"I believe the hindsight of history will treat Botha much kinder than the quick appraisals following his death this week at his home in the Wilderness. For the image of a finger-wagging, self-righteous, smirking Groot Krokodil who defiantly refused to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to account for the excesses of his administration is still too vivid in our collective memory.

However, Botha also deserves credit for the process of change he initiated in a period of history when white society was at its paranoiac and intransigent worst. During his reign the dismantling of the apartheid edifice gathered speed -- first with the abolition of the largely inconsequential mixed-marriages and immorality acts, and later with the scrapping of the Group Areas Act and the noxious influx-control measures.

It can be argued that these changes came about not through the design of Botha but as a result of an inevitable chain of small events. At least it happened during Botha's watch, and he had to suffer a right-wing revolt in his own ranks and the break-up of his beloved National Party as a result of this."

Business Day has a similar balanced appraisal today.

I have two personal memories. On the day of the Rubicon speech I was in Johannesburg, hosting some telecomms luminary from the USA who was talking to an IBM conference. A colleague took him to the SABC building for a TV interview, and came back with the news that the whole building was buzzing with talk about the leaked version of the speech, in which the ANC would be unbanned, Mandela released, all the things that De Klerk would later implement. When I arrived back in Cape Town later that evening, I was stunned to discover that none of it had come to pass. Perhaps not as stunned as Pik Botha and Chris Heunis, who had been actively promoting the speech and associated reforms!

Second, I remember one afternoon in June 2006, driving up the old DuToit's Kloof Pass, enroute to Johannesburg and a European business trip followed by a holiday in Tsilivi (Zakynthos, Greece), when PW came on the radio announcing the re-imposition of a State of Emergency to deal with unrest in the wake of the collapse of the EPG mission. I recall the bitter disapppointment I felt knowing that many more lives would be lost in this crackdown, and resolved that I should get myself and my family away from South Africa. This I seemed to have accomplished a few weeks later, when I negotiated an assignment at IBM's marvellous facility at La Gaude, in the mountains above Nice. What a life that would have been! Unfortunately, before I could take up the assignment, IBM decided to quit South Africa, and all those plans came to nought. At least I got to stay through the transition that ensued, and was on the Grand Parade in Cape Town the unforgettable evening that Nelson Mandela was released.

Speaking of whom, some people may have been surprised at Mandela's magnanimous response to the death of PW. In fact, as this quite fascinating article by John Carlin in London's Independent* points out, the two men had a lot of respect for each other, stemming from a secret meeting they had had on 5 July 1989, which Carlin claims was the real start of the process of the removal of apartheid, and the transition to democracy. Thus, this photograph from one of my Flickr contacts, which I instantly dismissed as a fake, may not be too farfetched.

I guess the real difference between the two men may be that whereas Madiba has over and over again demonstrated the generosity of his spirit, PW Botha remained a bitter and mean old man to his death, and that is how he will be remembered.

Finally, how could anyone take him seriously after seeing Pieter-Dirk Uys' wonderfully savage and accurate caricatures of him in shows such as "Adapt or Dye". PDU's own reminiscences are also published in the M&G today - under the apt title "He Was My Bread and Botha".

* link changed because the Independent hides its archives - thankfully, someone blogged the full text.

Appended Sunday, 5 November 2006

Thanks Ben for your comment. My most loyal reader. Everything you say is correct, but I don't think you can believe that either I, or any of the distinguished journalists I link to, are unaware of or deny in any way, the atrocities committed by the National Party under PW Botha particularly, but also by his predecessors Vorster, Verwoerd and Strijdom. I, and they, mentioned it in passing, but the emphasis was on a wider, more historical context. I find it interesting that, a day later, both Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma published articles emphasizing PW's contribution to the transition, and hardly mentioning his bloody record. Of course, there are other articles on the other side of the ledger, and I have linked one of them in my first paragraph above to make clear I do not forget about the repression. I was there, after all.  And by the way, I find it grotesque and absurd that flags are flying at half-mast and that he was offered a State funeral.

Finally, PW Botha, as a professed Christian, has to account for himself before his Maker, a judgement more final and significant than yours or mine, as illustrated in Zapiro's marvellous cartoon from Friday.

1:27:04 PM    comment []

02 August 2006

RobW_. Get yours at flagrantdisregard.com/flickr
That's me at Flickr. Ever since I discovered Flickr last year, it has displaced this weblog and the News Aggregator as my favourite online activity. Since I had my difficulties with the Radio software last year, all my RSS subscriptions have disappeared, and I'm too busy on Flickr to fix them up, so I get my news from Google News, or the RSS Aggregator in the Firefox Browser, and do all my social networking on Flickr.

That's sad, because they should be complementary, and point back and forth to each other, and there are enough interesting topics thrown up on Flickr (eg Nipplegate). Let's see if I can summon up the motivation to do it. Some comments would help....

4:23:40 PM    comment []

08 May 2006

Wounded Zuma wins first round

Is the headline on the BBC News website, following the verdict in the Jacob Zuma rape case, just delivered.  So, no clear-cut verdict, and his vociferous supporters will feel he is vindicated, but the truth is that his repotation is in tatters, and were it politically possible, the ANC should ditch him as vice-president, and leave him to twist and turn during the upcoming trila for corruption.

Probably too much to hope for, and the reputation of the organization should suffer accordingly.

5:00:19 PM    comment []

Robert Kirby Lashes Out at Rasool and ANC

The ever-acerbic Kirby, always good for a read, has a few harsh words for Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool and the ANC generally for being power-crazed, and seeking to overturn the results of the recent municipal election in Cape Town, by seemingly approving the disgraceful epsiode when the new Mayor, Helen Zille, was physically attacked at a public meeting by ANC supporters. At the very least, Rasool and the ANC are guilty of creating a climate where such episodes are accepted behaviour. He also has a go at the culture of corruption at local government level, and the power cuts in the Western Cape, which were so evident, and so disruptive, while I was there in February.

4:42:42 PM    comment []

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